For months now, those who prescribe to the latest info regarding solar activity have been aware that the last twelve months or so have given us some noticeably odd behavior so far as our Sun is concerned. For the most part, this has had to do with a sheer lack of solar activity, specifically an almost non-existent amount of sunspots visible on the solar surface, prompting a few of us to consider whether we might be experiencing the proverbial “calm before the storm”; that is, a period of extreme inactivity just prior to something massive and potentially catastrophic.
Now scientists are warning of a “huge solar storm” capable of knocking out our electrically-dependent urban epicenters around the globe. Though no conclusive evidence suggests that we can expect this for certain, the threat of such a possibility alone has many scientists concerned. News sources reported today that such a catastrophe would be “a nightmarish scenario that could include failures of transportation, communication and financial systems; shutdowns of government services; and a lack of safe drinking water, food and medication.”
Are experts overreacting to potential threats, where no real cause for alarm may exist, or is people’s awareness of potential mechanical and electrical failures a viable necessity? If indeed we study history to learn of past mistakes, we should perhaps take heed. As far back as 1859 a powerful solar storm disrupted telegraph systems around the world, while more recently in the 1980s, a blackout was caused in Quebec, Canada by solar flares interacting with Earth’s magnetosphere.
Similarly, many communication systems use the ionosphere to reflect radio signals over long distances in order to work. Solar activity resulting in ionospheric storms can affect radio communications necessary for such communication systems to remain operable. Many navigation systems and communication satellites are particularly at risk of being damaged, due to the compartmentalization resulting from technology allowing instruments used in satellites and other spacecraft to become smaller. A National Academies of Sciences paper discussing such dire possibilities recently stated that “Collateral effects of a longer-term outage would likely include, for example, disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure; and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration.” Indeed, if such devastating solar activity were to occur, it almost certainly would affect technologies most necessary to us in our day-to-day lives.
At the heart of the disruption caused by magnified solar activity is the constant cloud of plasma emitted in the solar wind created by our Sun. According to AOL News, Solar storms are created as a result of intense bursts of plasma erupting from the surface of the sun, “creating what’s called a coronal mass ejection (CME). These eruptions can produce electromagnetic interference that wreaks havoc with electricity-dependent technology on Earth.”
Scientists warn us that solar activity of this magnitude could cause a host of problems for humankind, but they don’t necessarily say it’s likely. Regardless, would we prepared if such things described were to occur? If we happened to be taken “off guard” by a sudden surge in solar activity, how quickly could we rebound? Would mankind react and adapt quickly, or would we (temporarily at least) be exposed to a new “dark age” of sorts… very literally?by